Washington Post: What’s the best state in America? Florida, for its roads and bridges.

Posted on July 18, 2014

By Reid Wilson

Reid Wilson is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tipsheet on politics. If you have a candidate for best state, e-mail him at reid.wilson@washpost.com.

The nation’s roads and bridges aren’t in good shape. Twenty-five percent of bridges are rated deficient or obsolete. Fourteen percent of roads are in poor condition. And if Congress can’t reach a deal on the Highway Trust Fund soon, repair work will grind to a halt by early August, the White House says.

But amid the potholes and crumbling pylons, one state stands out: Florida ranks near the top in nearly every measure of road transportation.

Just 4 percent of the Sunshine State’s roads are in disrepair, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Seventeen percent of the bridges in Florida are obsolete or deficient. In both cases, only a handful of states — Utah and Nevada chief among them — rank higher. The quality of Florida’s roads means drivers there pay less to maintain their vehicles, about $181 per year, than those in any other state.

Part of what sets Florida apart, according to transportation policy experts, is that it has a system of tolls, user fees and taxes that ensures infrastructure funding keeps flowing.

Gas taxes in Florida, the 11th-highest in the country, add about 36 cents to the cost of a gallon of fuel, the American Petroleum Institute reports. The state’s gas tax adjusts each year based on inflation, said Jeffrey Brown, chairman of the department of urban and regional planning at Florida State University. So do tolls and user fees, which are higher in Florida than in all but five other states.

That means Florida gets most of its transportation money, 68.8 percent, not from a general fund but from dedicated revenue streams. Only Delaware and Hawaii get higher shares of their transportation revenue from dedicated funding. Those who use the roads are the ones paying to maintain them.

Weather is also a factor in maintaining roads, said Ruth Steiner, a transportation specialist in the University of Florida’s department of urban and regional planning. Warmer winters in Florida mean fewer freezes, which make concrete or asphalt expand, contract and crack. No wonder, then, that most of the states with the worst roads are in snowier climes: More than 40 percent of roads in Rhode Island and Connecticut are in poor condition, and at least 20 percent are in bad shape in Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, Washington, New York and New Jersey.

That costs drivers in those states some serious cash. The civil engineers’ group estimates that drivers pay more than $500 a year, on average, to repair and operate their vehicles in the nine states with the worst road conditions.

So this winter, more residents of the Northeast and the Midwest might consider decamping to sunny Florida, where their cars will have an easier time on some of the country’s best roads.

A smooth ride

Tolls and gas taxes help keep Florida’s roads in good condition.

Miles of public road in Florida. : 121,759 

Share of roads in poor condition in Florida. : 4% 
Fourteen percent of roads are in poor condition nationwide.

Bridges in Florida. : 12,070
Seventeen percent of them are deficient or obsolete.

Vehicle repair and operating costs per driver in Florida.  : $181.43
The nationwide average is more than $400.

SOURCE: July report by the National Economic Council and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post’s GovBeat blog. He’s a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he’s a complete political junkie.

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